Tag: SSPE

How Many People Get Measles Each Year?

It used to be that measles was very common and almost everyone got measles.

A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.
A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.

While it was a so-called rite of passage and a part of growing up, it wasn’t something you looked forward to, as some kids didn’t survive having measles.

How Many People Get Measles Each Year?

Fortunately, measles case counts have dropped in the post-vaccine era.

How much did they drop?

Let’s see..

Year Cases
1920 469,924
1941 894,134
over 400 measles deaths each year
1962 503,282
1969 25,826
1970 47,351
1978 26,871
1979 13,597
1983 1,497
1986 6,282
1989 18,193
1990 27,786
1991 9,643
1992 2,200
1993 312
last record high number of measles cases
1994 963
1995 281
1996 508
1997 138
1998 100
1999 100
2000 86
2001 116
2002 44
2003 55
record low number of measles cases
2004 37
2005 66
2006 55
2007 43
2008 140
2009 71
2010 61
2011 220
2012 55
2013 187
worst year for measles since 1994, with the largest single outbreak (377 cases in Ohio) since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated
2014 667
2015 188
2016 86
2017 120
2018 256+

Can you guess when the first measles vaccines were introduced?

Can you guess when we started to give kids a second dose of the MMR vaccine?

Can you guess when Wakefield became popular and Dr. Bob’s vaccine book was released?

Do you know how much it costs to contain these outbreaks?

Do you understand the consequences of a natural measles infection?

Can you explain why we will almost certainly have the second highest number of measles cases in one year since 1994, even though we see the devastation that high rates of measles is causing in Europe and other parts of the world?

How many people will get measles in the United States this year?

A lot has changed since we got reassurance from the CDC that we were seeing an expected range of measles cases, although there were plenty of warning signs then that this was going to be one for the record books.
A lot has changed since we got reassurance from the CDC that we were seeing an expected range of measles cases, although there were plenty of warning signs then that this was going to be one for the record books.

Although no one is reporting on this, with several large ongoing outbreaks still not under control – it will be another record year for measles in the United States.

More on Measles and Measles Cases

Updated on November 15, 2018

Who Dies with Measles?

Measles is another of those diseases that some claim used to be mild and a rite of passage for kids.

That’s why there was an episode of the Brady Bunch about it, right?

An episode in which all of the kids got sick and they had to call two pediatricians to do house calls…

Who Dies with Measles?

While measles was a rite of passage for kids, it wasn’t the kind you looked forward to, because measles is rarely mild.

“Before a vaccine became available in 1963, measles was a rite of passage among American children. A red rash would spread over their bodies. They would develop a high fever. Severe cases could cause blindness or brain damage, or even death.”

CDC says measles almost eliminated in U.S.

Instead, most people develop 10 days of measles symptoms, including a high fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and a rash. Photophobia, irritability, sore throat, headache, and abdominal pain are other symptoms that children with measles might have.

Many require hospitalization and some die.

But isn’t it just older people or those with immune system problems that die with measles?

“From 1964 through 1971, 16.7% of the death certificates reviewed noted some underlying pathologic condition.”

Roger Barkin, MD on Measles mortality. Analysis of the primary cause of death.

Nope.

It is most often children, typically young children, without any medical problems who die.

Before the routine use of vaccines, most measles deaths were young children without any medical problems.
Before the routine use of measles vaccines, most measles deaths were young children without any previous medical problems.

In the post-vaccination era, no one would be expected to die with measles, but those with immune system problems sometimes do, as most others are vaccinated and protected. As vaccinated rates drop though, even otherwise healthy children and adults can once again die of measles.

Remember the measles outbreaks at the end of the 1980s?

“Complications were reported in 672 (9.8%) cases, including otitis media in 318 (4.6%) cases, pneumonia in 178 (2.6%), diarrhea in 171 (2.5%), and encephalitis in five (0.1%). Nine hundred thirteen patients (13.3%) were hospitalized, and 10 measles-associated fatalities were reported (case-fatality rate: 1.5 deaths per 1000 reported cases). Eight of the deaths were reported in children less than 5 years of age, all of whom were unvaccinated. None had a reported underlying illness or immunodeficiency. Most deaths have been attributed to pneumonia.”

Measles — United States, First 26 Weeks, 1989

Probably not, but from 1989 to 1991 there were at least 123 measles deaths across the United States, even after measles had been declining for years with the introduction of the measles vaccine in the 1960s. Most of the deaths were otherwise healthy, without underlying medical problems.

They were unvaccinated and unprotected.

Because we don’t typically hear any details about measles deaths, including the almost 90,000 measles deaths that continue to occur around the world each year, most people likely assume that measles only kills in third world countries, where kids are already sick or malnourished. Of course, that wouldn’t explain how over one hundred people died with measles in Europe over the past few years…

Still think that measles isn’t deadly?

Tragically, there are plenty of stories (although most are never reported in the news and we don’t hear about them) and case reports that will prove you wrong:

  • Olivia Dahl died with measles when she was 7-years-old (1962)
  • an unvaccinated 3-year-old died in Maricopa County (1970)
  • a 13-year-old girl who had previously been vaccinated with one of the first inactivated measles vaccines which were found to be ineffective and were replaced with the newer live vaccines died in Michigan (1978)
  • a 9-month-old died in Chicago (1990)
  • an unvaccinated 13-year-old died in Kansas (1990)
  • Tammy Bowman, an 11-year-old unvaccinated girl died in Michigan (1990)
  • an unvaccinated 13-year-old became the first person in the UK to die with measles in 14 years (2006)
  • a 14-year-old died of Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE), a late complication of a natural measles infection (2015)
  • an immunocompromised woman died after she was exposed in an outbreak in Clallam County, Washington (2015)
  • a 6-year-old boy with leukemia died in Italy caught measles from his intentionally unvaccinated sibling (2017)
  • an 11-month-old unvaccinated infant died in Greece (2017)
  • an intentionally unvaccinated 9-year-old girl with chromosomopathy, which is not a contraindication to getting vaccinated, died in Italy (2017)
  • a 10-month-old unvaccinated boy who likely caught measles when he had been hospitalized for an RSV infection, died in Italy (2018)
  • a 16-year-old who had received a heart transplant when she was 2-years-old died in France (2018)
  • an unvaccinated toddler in Jerusalem (2018)

Measles as a rite of passage?

“We baby boomers were apparently the last generation whose doctors, and therefore parents, accepted the measles as just one more annoying rite of passage of childhood that also happened to prime the immune system and provide lifelong immunity. Medical texts prior to the advent of the vaccine described measles as a benign, selflimiting (sic) childhood infectious disease that posed little risk to the average well-nourished child.”

Darrerl Crain, DC on The Great Measles Misunderstanding

While early pediatric textbooks did a great job describing the symptoms of measles, they also did a great job of documenting that measles was never a benign disease, something anti-vaccine folks still misunderstand because vaccines can do such a good job controlling the disease.

Even as overall mortality improved in the mid-20th Century, measles still wasn't a benign disease.
Even as overall mortality improved in the mid-20th Century, measles still wasn’t a benign disease.

Do benign, self-limiting childhood infections diseases kill hundreds of children every year?

This toddler died of measles in 1955.
This toddler died of measles in 1955.

Measles as a rite of passage is something we don’t want to have to go back to. It was a rite of passage that was endured because there was no other choice.

We have a choice now.

Don’t be misled into making the wrong one.

Don’t help anti-vaccine folks bring back measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccines are safe, effective and necessary.

“Today, vaccination is a cornerstone of pediatric preventive health care and a rite of passage for nearly all of the approximately 11,000 infants born daily in the United States.”

Cohn et al on Immunizations in the United States: A Rite of Passage

Getting vaccinated and protected is a rite of passage that you can look forward to, thanks to the many benefits of vaccines, not one that you should dread or avoid.

More on Measles Deaths

Does Having Measles Protect You from Cancer?

Anti-vaccine folks often try to tout the benefits of natural immunity.

So that's why Big Pharma wants you to get measles! So you will get cancer.
So that’s why Big Pharma wants you to get measles! So you will get cancer.

That measles reduces your risk of cancer is probably one that you haven’t heard.

Neither are you likely to have heard of the conspiracy theory that Big Pharma wants you to get vaccinated and protected so that you don’t get measles, just so you are at increased risk of cancer later.

Does Having Measles Protect You from Cancer?

The idea of a viral infection protecting you from cancer doesn’t make much sense, after all, many viral infections actually cause cancer.

That’s why we have vaccines to protect us against hepatitis B and HPV infections! So much for the idea that Big Pharma wants you to get cancer. If they did, then why did they develop vaccines that prevent cancer?

But Brandy Vaughn has evidence for her claim, doesn’t she?

Kind of. She has a study, “Febrile infectious childhood diseases in the history of cancer patients and matched control,” that was published 20 years ago in the journal Medical Hypothesis. A study that consisted of a questionnaire that was sent to cancer patients who were seen by anthroposophic general practitioners in Switzerland.

Anthroposophic general practitioners? Think Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf Schools.

Understand the connection with vaccines now?

That’s right, a “study” done by alternative health providers who are against vaccines found a benefit to getting febrile infectious childhood diseases, many of which are vaccine preventable.

What Are the Benefits and Risks of Measles?

Not surprisingly, few other people talk about any benefits to having a natural measles infection.

Unfortunately, we also don’t hear enough about the complications of these infections either, mostly because they are rather uncommon these days since most folks are vaccinated and protected.

Not uncommon enough though, as we still do have outbreaks.

Measles Benefits Measles Risks
natural immunity death
can miss 7-10 days of school or work encephalitis
SSPE
seizures
pneumonia
7 to 10 days of high fever and irritability
can trigger an outbreak
a few years of immune amnesia

Immune amnesia?

That’s a risk that you might be unfamiliar with, but it is the increasing popular theory that a natural measles infection resets your immune system to that of a newborn, so that you are once again susceptible to many infectious diseases. That’s likely why mortality rates from other diseases besides measles goes down when folks start to get vaccinated against measles.

Measles and Cancer Risks

What about the association of measles and cancer?

Unlike the idea that a natural measles infection might be protective against cancer, there are more than a few studies that actually associate measles with a risk of developing cancer, including:

  • lung cancer
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • endometrial cancer
  • breast cancer

Are these associations real?

Probably not, after all, why don’t rates of these cancers go way down after measles gets under control or eliminated?

Still, most of us know that measles isn’t a mild disease and don’t need any extra benefits to getting vaccinated and protected.

We know what life was like when measles was a common childhood disease and see what is happening in parts of the world where measles is still much more common than it is in the United States.

And we understand the most dangerous association between measles and cancer that affects the most people – when unvaccinated people get measles and expose children and adults on chemotherapy who are immunosuppressed and can’t be vaccinated.

More on Measles and Cancer

Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

We know that vaccine-preventable diseases can be life-threatening.

In the pre-vaccine era, when these diseases were much more common, way too many people died, but still, most people did recover.

They didn’t always survive without complications though.

Tragically, we are starting to see more of these complications as more kids are now getting some of these vaccine-preventable diseases again.

Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

That we can prevent these serious complications is another benefit of getting vaccinated!

How serious?

Have you ever seen someone who has survived a meningococcal infection?

Do they always have all of their arms and legs?

How about their fingers and toes?

"Baby" Charlotte survived her battle with meningococcemia and continues to take on new challenges!
“Baby” Charlotte survived her battle with meningococcemia and continues to take on new challenges!

There is a reason that we say that you have to earn your natural immunity. You have to survive these diseases to get it. And you want to survive without any long-term complications, which can include:

  1. chicken pox – shingles, secondary bacterial infections, pneumonia, meningitis, encephalitis, seizures, transverse myelitis, Reye syndrome, neonatal varicella, congenital varicella syndrome
  2. congenital rubella syndrome – neonatal death, heart problems, deafness, cataracts, intellectual disability, liver and spleen damage, glaucoma, thyroid problems
  3. diphtheria – myocarditis, heart failure, nerve damage, muscle paralysis
  4. Haemophilus influenzae type b – meningitis, epiglottitis, pneumonia, osteomyelitis, cellulitis, hearing loss, brain damage, loss of limbs
  5. hepatitis A – can rarely lead to liver failure
  6. hepatitis B – chronic hepatitis B, cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer
  7. HPV – genital warts, cancer
  8. influenza – parotitis, pneumonia, myocarditis, encephalitis, myositis, rhabdomyolysis, multi-organ failure
  9. measles –pneumonia, seizures, encephalitis, SSPE
  10. mumps – orchitis (inflammation of the testicles), oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries), pancreatitis, meningitis, encephalitis
  11. pneumococcal disease – pneumonia, mastoiditis, meningitis, bacteremia, sepsis, empyema, pericarditis, hearing loss, brain damage
  12. pertussis – pneumonia, seizures, apnea, encephalopathy, rib fractures
  13. polio – meningitis, paralysis, post-polio syndrome
  14. rabies – it is very rare to survive a rabies infection without treatment
  15. rotavirus – dehydration, intussusception
  16. rubella – arthritis, congenital rubella syndrome
  17. shingles – postherpetic neuralgia, pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, encephalitis
  18. tetanus – seizures, laryngospasm, fractures, pulmonary embolism, aspiration pneumonia
  19. typhoid fever – intestinal perforation, internal bleeding, peritonitis, hepatitis, osteomyelitis, arthritis, meningitis, myocarditis,
  20. yellow fever – pneumonia, parotitis, sepsis

Anti-vaccine folks rarely talk about the complications of vaccine-preventable diseases. For that matter, they also often push the idea that vaccines don’t even work and that these diseases aren’t even vaccine preventable, don’t they?

Don’t believe them. Vaccines work and they are safe and necessary, especially if you want to avoid these diseases.

More on Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Why Do We Only Worry About Measles?

Anti-vaccine folks often claim that health officials only worry about measles and measles outbreaks.

They can’t understand why anyone gets concerned by a few measles cases here and there, not understanding that a lot of work goes into containing measles outbreaks and making sure that they don’t grow beyond a few cases.

And health officials don’t just worry about measles. They work to control outbreaks of mumps, pertussis, hepatitis A, and all other diseases too.

Why We Worry About Measles Outbreaks

We do get concerned about measles outbreaks though.

“Whenever measles strikes, it’s more than just an outbreak of a single disease, or an indication that children aren’t receiving their measles shots; it’s also a warning that immunization coverage in general, for all vaccine-preventable diseases, is lower than it should be.

To put it another way: When rates of routine vaccination—children receiving all their shots on schedule, as a preventive measure rather than a reaction to an outbreak—start to fall, the first sign is usually a measles outbreak.”

Seth Berkley on Measles Outbreaks Are a Sign of Bigger Problems

The measles vaccine is among the most effective vaccines we have, so if we are seeing outbreaks, even though measles is very contagious, it means there is a problem.

“A focus on measles surveillance can help detect populations unreached by immunization systems and, by extension, program weaknesses. Measles serves as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for detecting problems with immunization programs, a characteristic whose importance has recently been highlighted in the context of global health security.”

Orenstein et al on Measles and Rubella Global Strategic Plan 2012–2020 midterm review

In the late 1980s, when we had large outbreaks between 1989 to 1991, with 55,622 cases and 123 deaths, it meant that we weren’t vaccinating enough kids because Federal support for vaccine programs had dropped.

As much as anti-vaccine folks like to try and minimize how serious measles can be, it is easy to see that measles is indeed a serious, life-threatening disease. We had good nutrition, proper sanitation, and modern health care in 1990, and still, a lot of people died with measles. Rates of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a late complication of measles, went up too, in the years after these outbreaks.

“Measles is a wholly preventable disease, and it was almost eradicated from the country in 1983, when only 1,497 cases were reported. But by 1990, after Federal budget cuts and the end of the Government’s monitoring of immunization programs, more than 30,000 cases of measles and more than 60 deaths were reported.”

Panel Ties Measles Epidemic to Breakdown in Health System

Those outbreaks were fixed, as we improved access to help kids get vaccinated and protected. Unfortunately, the issue with outbreaks today isn’t about access to vaccines, at least not in the developed world. It is about parents intentionally skipping or delaying vaccines.

How do you fix that?

Hopefully with education.

Why You Should Worry About Measles Outbreaks

Did you know that after the measles outbreaks of 1989, we also saw outbreaks of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome?

  • 396 cases of rubella, 4 deaths, and 2 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 1989
  • 1,125 cases of rubella, 8 deaths, and 32 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 1990
  • 1,401 cases of rubella, 1 death, and 34 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 1991

Did you know that because they have overall lower vaccination rates, measles outbreaks in Europe grow far larger, into the tens of thousands of cases, with dozens of deaths?

“We must not tolerate a world in which a child dies from a disease that can be easily prevented with a low-cost vaccine.”

Dr Tedros, WHO Director-General on World Immunization Week 2018

We worry about measles outbreaks, because we don’t want to go back to anti-vaccine folks push us back to pre-vaccine era levels of disease and deaths.

We know what happens when vaccine levels drop too low.

A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.
A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this NY Times article reports.

We know that vaccines are safe and necessary.

You should know that anti-vaccine propaganda that scares parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids is rooted in myths and misinformation. They often get away with it because most parents today ahve never seen how devastating measles and other diseases can really be, so they believe stories about the Brady Bunch, instead of the advice of real experts.

You hopefully understand that’s a mistake.

More on Worrying About Measles Outbreaks

When Was the Last Measles Death in the United States?

How many measles deaths have there been in the United States in the past ten years? Dr. Bob Sears frequently says that there have been none. It is easy to see that Dr. Bob is wrong, not even counting the latest death in 2015.

Measles Deaths in the United States

Measles deaths are thought to occur in about 1 in every 500 to 1,000 reported cases. This is not just in developing countries or in people with chronic medical conditions.

Consider that in an outbreak in the United States from 1989 to 1991, amid 55,622 cases, there were 123 deaths.

More recently, measles cases and measles deaths in the United States include:

  • 2000 – 86 cases – 1 measles death (infant)  – endemic spread of measles eliminated in U.S.
  • 2001 – 116 cases – 1 measles death
  • 2002 – 44 cases
  • 2003 – 55 cases – 1 measles death (1 year old)
  • 2004 – 37 cases – record low number of measles cases
  • 2005 – 66 cases – 1 measles death (1 year old)
  • 2006 – 55 cases
  • 2007 – 43 cases
  • 2008 – 140 cases
  • 2009 – 71 cases – 2 measles deaths
  • 2010 – 63 cases – 2 measles deaths
  • 2011 – 220 cases
  • 2012 – 55 cases – 2 measles deaths
  • 2013 – 187 cases (large outbreak in New York City – 58 cases)
  • 2014 – 667 cases (the worst year for measles since 1994, including the largest single outbreak since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated – 377 cases in Ohio)
  • 2015 – 188 cases – got off to a strong start with a big outbreak in California – 1 measles death
  • 2016 – 86 cases
  • 2017 – 118 cases

So that’s 11 measles deaths since 2000 and at least 8 measles deaths since 2005.

The last death, a woman in Clallam County in Washington, was exposed in an outbreak of mostly unvaccinated people in 2015.

Why do people say that there have been no measles deaths in the United States in the past 10 years? Whether they are misinformed or intentionally trying to misinform people, they are wrong.

The Last Verifiable Measles Death in the United States

The CDC is actually contributing a bit to the confusion over measles deaths, in that when asked, they have historically said that “the last verifiable death in the United States from acute measles infection occurred in 2003 when there were 2 reported deaths.”

They explain the discrepancy between that statement and other CDC reports, like the recently published “Summary of Notifiable Diseases — United States, 2012,” which clearly documents measles deaths in 2005, 2009, and 2010, by saying that those reports are based on “statistical information about deaths in the United States.”

But that statistical information comes from death certificates that are sent in from all over the United States to the National Vital Statistics System. The system isn’t like VAERS, where just anyone can send in a report. You don’t necessarily have to be a doctor to sign and file a death certificate though either, which is why the CDC is probably hung up on saying that the last verifiable measles deaths were in 2003.

To be more precise when talking about measles deaths in the United States, since it doesn’t seem like the CDC has verified each and every measles death after 2003, it is likely best to say that death certificates have been filed in 2005, 2009 (2), 2010 (2), and 2012 (2) that listed measles as a cause of death code.

Of course, that still means that there have been measles deaths in the United States since 2003, especially now that the CDC actually states that “the last measles death in the United States occurred in 2015.”

SSPE – More Measles Deaths

Lately, in addition to deaths from acute measles infections, there have been even more deaths from subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).

About 6 to 8 years after having measles, children with SSPE develop progressive neurological symptoms, including memory loss, behavior changes, uncontrollable movements, and even seizures. As symptoms progress, they may become blind, develop stiff muscles, become unable to walk, and eventually deteriorate to a persistent vegetative state.

Children with SSPE usually die within 1 to 3 years of first developing symptoms, including in the United States:

  • 2000 – 5 SSPE deaths
  • 2001 – 2 SSPE deaths
  • 2002 – 5 SSPE deaths
  • 2003 – 0
  • 2004 – 1 SSPE death
  • 2005 – 2 SSPE deaths
  • 2006 – 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2007 – 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2008 – 3 SSPE deaths
  • 2009 – 2 SSPE deaths
  • 2010 – 0
  • 2011 – 4 SSPE deaths
  • 2012 – 1 SSPE death
  • 2013 – 1 SSPE death
  • 2014 – 0
  • 2015 – 1 SSPE death
  • 2016 – 0
  • 2017 – 0

That’s 33 SSPE deaths since 2000 and at least 20 SSPE deaths since 2005. Why so many? Many of them can likely be attributed to the large number of cases associated with measles outbreaks from 1989 to 1991.

Fortunately, as the number of measles cases has been dropping in the post-vaccine era, so have the number of SSPE deaths.

The National Registry for SSPE, reported that there were at least 453 cases between 1960 and 1976. There were 225 deaths from SSPE between 1979 and 1998. The registry wasn’t established until 1969 though, and it is now becoming clear that the risk of developing SSPE is much higher than once thought.

A recent study of measles in Germany has found that the risk of developing SSPE is about 1 in 1,700 to 1 in 3,300 cases of measles.

Other Myths About Measles Deaths

One of the classic measles myths we hear is that measles was disappearing even before the measles vaccine was developed. It is true that measles deaths had been dropping since the turn of the century.

The measles death rate (deaths per 100,000 people) in the United States was:

  • 1900 – 13.3 (about 7000 deaths)
  • 1910 – 12.4
  • 1920 – 8.8
  • 1930 – 3.2
  • 1935 – 3.1
  • 1940 – 0.5
  • 1945 – 0.2
  • 1950 – 0.3 (468 deaths)
  • 1955 – 0.2 (345 deaths)
  • 1960 – 0.2 (380 deaths)
  • 1963 – first measles vaccine licensed
  • 1965 – 0.1 (276 deaths)
  • 1970 – 0.0 (89 deaths)
  • 1975 – 0.0 (20 deaths)
  • 1980 – 0.0 (11 deaths)
  • 1985 – 0.0 (4 deaths)

That’s not surprising though. The general death rate had dropped from 17.8 in 1900 to 7.6 in 1960. For infants under age 12 months, the death rate dropped from 162.4 in 1933 to 27 in 1960.

This simply reflects that vaccines were not the only medical technology that helped to save lives in the 20th century and not that measles was already disappearing. Penicillin, insulin, vitamin D, blood typing (allows transfusions of blood that has been typed and cross-matched), dialysis machines, and mechanical ventilators were all discovered in the early 1900s.

anti-vax-measles-graph
Despite how anti-vaccine charts try and mislead you, measles was still very deadly when the first measles vaccines were introduced.

If you notice though, the death rate for measles got stuck after the 1940s at about 0.2 to 0.3, even as modern medicine continued to advance. That’s about 300 to 500 measles deaths each year in the United States. This was after World War II and through the 1950s and early 1960s, hardly a time of poor hygiene or poor nutrition or when Americans were without access to medical care.

It took about 20 years for those deaths to start dropping again, and it took the coming of the measles vaccine to do it.

So if we stop vaccinating, we won’t get to 7,000 measles deaths a year again in the United States. Modern medicine has improved a great deal since 1900. We would eventually get to about 320 to 960 measles deaths a year though (using our current population of 320 million people and a measles death rate between 0.1 and 0.3).

Other Facts About Measles Deaths

People still die of measles.

What else do you need to know about measles deaths?

  • SSPE is caused by wild type measles. Vaccine strain measles has never been found in the brain tissue of anyone who has ever died of SSPE.
  • Although SSPE was first described by Dr. James R. Dawson, JR as a new type of epidemic encephalitis in 1933 (Dawson’s disease), that it is a late complication of a natural measles infection wasn’t discovered until much later.
  • People have recently died of measles in other industrial countries too. Basically anywhere there have been measles outbreaks, there have been measles deaths, including Canada, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and France, etc.
  • Worldwide, about 400 people die each and every day from measles.

The latest measles deaths we have been hearing about?

Dozens of infants, children, and adults, almost all unvaccinated have died in large outbreaks since the beginning of 2016 in Europe.

What To Know about Measles Deaths

Measles is still deadly, even in this era of modern medicine, sanitation and good nutrition.

More on Measles Deaths

The Myth That Measles Isn’t Deadly

Have you ever heard that measles isn’t deadly?

Sure, there are the folks who think that all vaccine preventable diseases are so mild that they wouldn’t kill you unless you lived in a Third World country.

The Myth That Measles Isn’t Deadly

But there are also folks, usually the same folks, who think that the measles virus doesn’t actually kill you – it is instead the complications that are deadly.

For most people, that’s a distinction without a difference.

“The acute pathological effects of measles include the destruction of respiratory epithelium and depression of cellular immunity. These effects interact to transiently increase measles-infected hosts’ susceptibility to respiratory bacterial strains to which they are not immune.”

Measles epidemics of variable lethality in the early 20th century.

After all, if you have measles and die, you probably don’t care if you died because of:

  • viral pneumonia
  • a secondary bacterial pneumonia
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • acute measles encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
  • Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) – a late complication of natural measles infections

In the pre-vaccine era, before the early 1960s, about 400 to 500 people would die each year from measles and these complications.

So much for the myth that measles isn’t deadly.

But didn’t they all have underlying medical problems – another measles myth?

No they didn’t. One study of measles deaths in the 1960s found that only about 17% of the people who died with measles as the cause of death had an underlying disease.

And we now know that having a natural measles infection lowers your immunity and puts you at risk of dying from something else, even after you have recovered from your measles infection. That’s why mortality rates go down so much more than expected after measles vaccine programs are introduced in an area.

Measles Is Still Not Marvelous

Although the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an improved version wasn't available until 1968.
Although the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an improved version wasn’t available until 1968.

While it is true that people rarely die of measles in the United States and other developed countries anymore, that’s just because most people are vaccinated and really big outbreaks aren’t that common, especially since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in 2000.

You don’t have to go back to the pre-vaccine era to remember how measles kills though.

Measles is still deadly, even in this era of modern medicine, good nutrition, and clean water. Not that people in the United States didn’t eat well and have access to indoor plumbing in the 1950s, but medical care has improved.

People can still die when they get measles though.

Consider that at least 123 people died in the United States during the large measles epidemics from 1989 to 1991. Another 11,000 were hospitalized, among only about 55,000 cases.

During even more recent outbreaks of measles:

  • a pregnant woman with measles was hospitalized and had a miscarriage (2013 measles outbreak in Brooklyn)
  • an immunocompromised woman died of pneumonia due to measles (2015 measles outbreak in Clallam County, Washington)

There have been other measles deaths and complications of these preventable infections.

Ending with 667 cases, 2014 became the worst year for measles in the United States since 1994.
Ending with 667 cases, 2014 became the worst year for measles in the United States since 1994.

Although before the Clallam County death, the CDC would say that “the last verifiable death in the United States from acute measles infection occurred in 2003 when there were 2 reported deaths,” death certificates had been filed in 2005, 2009 (2), 2010 (2), and 2012 (2) which listed measles as a cause of death code. These measles deaths are listed in the CDC “Summary of Notifiable Diseases — United States, 2012,” and in the CDC Wonder Compressed Mortality Files Underlying Cause-of-Death database.

Again, that there aren’t more simply reflects that most people are vaccinated.

But when we start seeing more and more cases of measles, more and more people will start to die. Just look at the outbreaks in Europe right now…

We also shouldn’t forget that worldwide, even after a 79% drop in measles deaths just since 2000, there were still 134,200 measles deaths in 2015, about 367 deaths a day.

What To Know About The Myth That Measles Isn’t Deadly

Not only are measles infections deadly, usually from pneumonia and encephalitis, but a natural measles infection can also cause years of immunosuppression, increasing your risk of death from other diseases too.

More About The Myth That Measles Isn’t Deadly